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Harrington ‘trying to get back’

An Irish proverb: A man who holds good cards would never say if they were dealt wrong.

I have a feeling, friendly and accommodating as he is, that Padraig Harrington owns such a competitive nature.

He was Rory before Rory.

Just don’t push the comparison with him.

“I want to be Padraig Harrington,” he said. “That’s who I am. I want to be him. I’ve got plenty of game left in me. I don’t need to be anybody else.”

For a stretch in 2007 and 2008, there were few professional golfers better than him. He was the first Irish golfer to win multiple major championships and the only one until Rory McIlroy joined him.

Harrington lifted the trophy from a British Open and then another Open and then the PGA Championship. He is a former PGA Player of the Year award winner.

Times change. Swings go awry.

In August, after failing to make the cut at the Wyndham Championship, Harrington lost his PGA Tour card.

But he ranks in the top 50 in career earnings, meaning Harrington can use a one-time exemption to maintain his playing privileges in 2015. There are also sponsor exemptions. He doesn’t appear all that set on going anywhere.

Harrington on Thursday shot a 1-under-par 70 at TPC Summerlin, one of many who struggled reading and adapting to the fast greens during the first round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

He is six shots back of the leaders, certain the rhythm and flow and consistent results that once placed him among the world’s best are not near dead and buried. He wants to win another major.

“Why just one?” he asked. “I’m putting better. That’s the main thing. Stay positive. Let it happen. I’m sure it’s there. It’s easier for those on their way up. They’re always going forward. I have already peaked at this level. I’m trying to get back there. That’s always harder. I believe it can happen. I might be the first guy to do it, but I believe it can happen.”

It’s a fascinating sidebar in all sports, how champions lose their way and fight to regain the dominance they once knew. Harrington is like countless athletes, motivated by the fear of failure. He’s working on that part. He’s still trying to discover the secret to all this.

He was early to golf’s fitness craze and remains as disciplined in the gym as he does on the range, an athlete who views a good day as one that includes long stretching routines and medicine balls and kettle bells and other forms of a taxing workout.

“I was fat, but also earlier than any individual realized how important driving distance was,” Harrington said. “So it was both. I needed it, and it benefited me hitting the ball farther.”

Things couldn’t have gone worse in 2013, when Harrington missed the cut in seven of the 17 PGA Tour events he played. This year, he has missed it nine times in 16 events. He ranks 325th in the world, which is a long way from No. 3, where he sat in 2008.

He last won in 2010 at the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia, not to be confused with a certain tournament in Augusta, Ga., each spring. The last time he won anything even the most indifferent golf fan might recognize was the PGA Championship in 2008.

Even when at the top, Harrington adjusted his swing. He changed coaches in 2011 from a longtime teacher and close friend. He spoke to reporters at length about things like reducing his foot movement and curtailing his hip turn for a shorter coil. He even went as far as to describe in detail about changing the position of his tongue during a swing.

It was as if all of Ireland wanted to ask: “Ara cod?”

Are ya serious?

Some surmised he was frightened to remain the same golfer that allowed him to succeed at such a high level, bowing to the fear that had overcome his thought process.

“Clearly, I’m trying to get away from that, to be honest,” Harrington said. “We’re working our way through things. I’m trying to be more carefree about my shots on the course, not worrying as much about the bad ones.”

This is where golf can land even its best: Harrington is 43 and owns 19 titles between the PGA and European tours. He has won an additional 14 events throughout Asia and other parts of the world.

But Thursday, in a tournament that will award its winner 500 FedEx Cup points and more than $1 million and yet hardly draws the household names of the world’s top 10 or so players, he stood over an errant tee shot on the par-4 11th hole and sent his second shot directly into the branches of a tree not 5 feet in front of him. He would bogey the hole.

On the par-3 17th, after nearly holing his tee shot, Harrington rolled in a short putt for his second straight birdie.

“Erin go bragh!” yelled a spectator.

Ireland forever.

That sort of up-and-down day.

“The only pressure I feel now is to get back to where I was,” Harrington said. “Winning is the quickest way.”

Just not the easiest.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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